Unbabbled: Coronavirus Resources (Part 6)

At-Home Sensory Play

Does it seem like some days your child is bouncing off the walls? Or maybe the noises, lights and activites taking place at home are causing your child to feel overstimulated? Getting children to sit through online lessons, shared book readings, or even just lunch can feel like an impossible task when they're struggling with dysregulation.

Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Sibi Samuel joins us this episode to discuss sensory-based activities and their power to help regulate emotions. Additionally, she provides simple methods for incorporating these activities at home.

About Sibi

Sibi Samuel, OTR, MOT is a licensed and registered occupational therapist at The Carruth Center. She received her master's of occupational therapy degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in 2014 and a master's in childhood education from Herbert H. Lehman College in 2009. After working as a teacher, Sibi obtained her master's in occupational therapy after realizing the field combines her love for working with children with her continuously growing interest in healthcare. She has practiced in a variety of settings, including a sensory integration clinic, outpatient clinic, and home health. In addition to her work at The Carruth Center, Sibi and her certified therapy dog, Jax, volunteer with Faithful Paws.

Top recommended activities:

  1. Silly animal walks: bear crawls, frog jumps, crab walks, horse gallops
  2. Sensory bins: shaving cream, dried rice or beans
  3. Magic carpet rides
  4. Play-dough
  5. Fort building

Stephanie (00:05):

Hello and welcome to a Unbabbled, a podcast that navigates the world of special education, communication delays, and learning differences. We are your hosts, Stephanie Landis and Meredith Krimmel, and we're certified speech language pathologist who spend our days at The Parish School in Houston, helping children find their voices and connect with the world around them. Welcome. We're here today chatting with pediatric occupational therapist, Sibi Samuel about simple ways that you can incorporate great sensory based activities into your home and how including these activities into your day can make a huge positive impact on your child. So if he has a background in early childhood education, but went back to obtain her master's in occupational therapy after realizing the field combines her love of working with children with her continuous growing interest in health care, she has experienced in working in a variety of settings, including a sensory integration clinic, outpatient and home health. So be currently works at The Carruth Center, which is a part of the parish school here in Houston, Texas. And a fun fact about cities. And on top of her work with The Carruth Center, she and her therapy dog Jax volunteer with Faithful Paws. So welcome, Sibi. Thank you for being on our podcast today.

Sibi (01:13):

Hi everyone. I'm glad to be here and to have this opportunity to provide some information on sensory processing and some activities for our parents and our kiddos.

Stephanie (01:24):

Well let's just start off with if people don't have a background familiarity with it, what is sensory processing?

Sibi (01:30):

Sensory processing and sensory modulation essentially go hand in hand. Sensory processing. It's just the way our brain receives and organized the sensory input and modulation is the way that we provide, um, a response an appropriate response to it. Um, so as children we learn of the five basic senses, sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. But there are foundational sensory systems that these others systems built off on. So the foundations that I consider and that are most important for these others to work are our proprioceptive system, our vestibular system, and our tactical system.

Stephanie (02:10):

Can you explain a little bit more about what those are? Cause I know when I started out learning about this, proprioceptive system was totally new to me.

Sibi (02:18):

Sure. Um, just to be brief background on that. Um, the proprioceptive system is the sensations coming from our muscles and our joints and it lets us know where we are in space then helps us with body awareness and spatial awareness. Um, it also helps us judge how much force we need to complete a task or an activity. So for example, if I was reaching over to pick up a cup full of water, um, me knowing if I need to use a lot of force for that or a little bit of force for that to not spill the water is how my proprioceptive system would help me. Um, it is also responsible for our postural control, our balance and as all coordination as well.

Stephanie (02:57):

What about the vestipular?

Sibi (02:59):

Our vestibular system is essentially our movement and balance system. So it gives us information about um, balanced gravity movement lets us know if we are standing still or moving the direction which we're moving. Um, the force or speed that we're using to move it is also very essential to many other things such as properly using our vision, um, our posture, our actions, planning them, and also to calm and regulate ourselves

Meredith (03:27):

With the sensory processing disorder. Does that mean that a child is having or an adult is having difficulty organizing this input that's coming in?

Sibi (03:35):

Yes. And um, there are different ways that we see that and usually through that response at the child or adults has. So it could be that they are either over-responsive or under responsive to the sensory stimuli.

Stephanie (03:49):

And what would that look like?

Sibi (03:50):

So a child who is over-responsive, um, or is the sensory stimuli is too much for them. They tend to be avoiders. So these are the kiddos that may not like to swing, may not like to climb on playground equipment, um, maybe hesitant to try new activities that require movement or might get motion sick because of these things, their system is over responding to just a little bit of input. So it's too much for them. And our kiddos or adults who are under responsers, uh, they have a very large or high threshold so they need a lot more input to process this movement. So these are our um, movers and Crashers. They love to spin, seek intense movement input. They love swinging high love roller coasters. Um, they just always seem on the go.

Stephanie (04:43):

Yeah, my two children, I have one of each, my daughter was born wanting to crash and smash and flip and twist and turn upside down and he could swing for hours and it makes me so sick and my son like the thought of being pushed, put upside down at all and he screams and like a swing he can only tolerate for certain amount of times. And like it's interesting to watch how different their sensory systems develop.

Sibi (05:15):

Yes, for sure. And it's good that you see the difference cause sometimes parents might have all children be one way or the other way. But it's also important to remember that these kiddos are not always hyper or hypo responsive in every area. Some might be more responsive to touch input and less responsive to movement input. So others might be more consistent in the way that they are responding, but it, um, it can vary as well. And that's important to know.

Meredith (05:42):

Yeah. I have two Crashers at home. So...

Stephanie (05:44):

What are some clues that parents could pick up on to see which way their child might fall or if they're kind of a mix?

Sibi (05:52):

Some clues would be our under response are kiddos as I mentioned earlier, are the, that might get, that might need a lot more input. So they might seem to be, kind of dragging along and, or I'm sorry, the under responsers would be the ones that need more of that. So they would be wanting to jump more or move more or can't sit still. Um, and for them it's important to provide this input throughout the day so that they're getting it so that their arousal level is where it needs to be to attend. Whether it's for socialization or for academics to attend in the classroom, we want to make sure that we're giving them enough input that they are actually processing it because they need so much of it. And then our over responsers are the ones that are going to see more maybe kind of avoiding these things and not, um, wanting to try new things but also might have an overreaction to an input. So for example, like a small scrape or cut might result in a very, um, big meltdown or overreaction because they are feeling that quite a lot more than if we were functioning more typically where that they might be like, Oh, I got a cut, I need a bandaid or something like that. Um, and in a classroom setting or social setting, we might not notice, but things just as like the fan blowing or the AC vent blowing air on them can be very distracting and can be affecting them or the clothing that they're wearing can be affecting them because it's just too much input.

Stephanie (07:21):

You mentioned having to help get your child regulated so that they're in a state that they're ready to learn. Can you speak a little more on that?

Sibi (07:28):

So it depends on where the kiddo is at that time. Um, if they are seeming to be very overstimulated or over aroused where they're giggling, excessively, laughing excessively, they can't focus on what you're saying or pay attention to you. Um, they seem to kind of be out of control. We want to give them input that's going to help calm and regulate them. So that's where a lot of the proprioceptive activities come into play. And that can be as simple as giving them a big hug or a squish. Um, getting them to push or pull something that's heavy to kind of calm and regulate. Um, they can do something like blowing bubbles, taking in those deep breaths. Um, and these are the kiddos that we want to see at that state and to compare it to an adult with a proprioceptive system. I always think of like adults lifting weights and exercising and that feeling that we get afterwards, like we could be having a hard day or a hard time. And once we do that, like it gives us this really good calm feeling and that is our proprioceptive system coming into play for adults. So for children, we need to do activities that are similar but that are appropriate for them. And that is fun for them.

Stephanie (08:38):

Yeah, that makes sense. Especially since we've switched to this whole new thing currently going on with having to sit in front of a computer and trying to learn and get information that way. I mean that blue screen coming at them all day long and having to sit as a, the whole new challenge for these kids.

Meredith (08:57):

I have a kiddo who's wiggly, you know, at home and Stephanie, you brought up that we're all stuck at home and in front of our computers and, and that includes, you know, my children as well. And I've got the kid who's eating and like falling out of his chair and wiggling or standing to eat or is sitting down to do coloring. He's standing, he's sitting, he's moving. You know, what are some activities at home that I could do to help regulate a kiddo like that? I'm sure that other parents have the same thing going on in their own home.

Sibi (09:25):

That's a really good question. Especially considering now, um, how different it is for children with the distance learning and so much more time on the screen. I would say if it's okay for them to stand and it is not, um, disruptive to the learning, then let them stand, let them do that little one part that helps them to get some more input. Um, and even if they're standing or sitting, anything you can do to kind of give them some input with moving their legs or feet. Um, sometimes a wiggle cushion that they can sit on and move is a great way to get some input and that sometimes has little pins on it that gives that touch and tactile input that can help them, um, feel a little bit more regulated. Um, you can put like a stretchy band on their chair if you want that they can kind of kick on or move their feet against to do that. And trying to build in as many movement breaks as possible. And I know a lot of the classrooms and curriculums are trying to do that. So as much movement breaks as they can get do that.

Stephanie (10:26):

What are some of those movement activities that parents could easily do at home?

Sibi (10:30):

One of my favorites is animal walks and I've been doing them in sessions at the clinic but also now, um, via telehealth. So I use just this dice that I have that has different pictures and this is just to engage the kiddos a little bit more and it has different animals on there. So I just rolled the dice and whatever it lands on, we do that walk or there's one that says your choice and they can choose. So crab walks are on there, bear walks, frog jumps, um, bunny hops. And these are things that you can do throughout the day. Like I'm just going to go get a book or a toy. Hey, let's do some bear crawls over to the next room or getting ready for lunch. Let's do a crab walk to the bathroom or kitchen to wash our hands first. Um, easy way to incorporate that throughout the day. If there are, um, things available in the house, just like even a cardboard box, you can use to be a kind of like a scooter board, um, set it up so that a kiddo can sit in there and um, if there's a sibling available, the sibling can pull the kiddo or the parent can in the box is using a rope or a blanket to make into a rope. Um, filling that with something heavy, that box like, uh, food cans or laundry detergent is a great idea to get that kiddo to push on it or pull on it to give that calming proprioceptive input.

Stephanie (11:49):

Yeah. At my house we use, uh, a laundry basket and the kids just take, pushing each other up and down the hall and the laundry basket to give me a few minutes to make dinner or respond to an email or a laundry basket has been a simple thing that we already have at home that's been kind of lifesaving.

Meredith (12:06):

Are these activities that you would do both with your over and under responsers or would you, would you choose different activities for different children?

Sibi (12:14):

So typically I would choose different activities for different children, but overall the proprioceptive or heavy work activities are generally calming and regulating. So it's one of those things that you often can't go wrong with, especially just making sure you're supervising if they are carrying or moving heavy items, I'd always recommend. Um, but the big movement activities are, um, recommended for our kiddos who are not, um, at the right arousal level. Like if they see slow, if they seem slow to engage or kind of tired and you want to wake them up or get them more alerted, I would do some of those bigger movement activities, um, jumping, climbing, um, spinning, anything like that. And then if it's a kiddo that seems to be having a lot of energy that you kind of want to regulate to come down to be able to attend, um, I would do more of those heavy work activities or big squishes. Um, taking deep breaths. Sometimes I do a, what I call a pompom race where it's just a straw and a cotton ball or colored pompom and we just, um, lay on our tummies or you can do it on the table, just blow through the straw or even without the straw to see who's gonna win the race. And kiddos usually like it cause there's like an end point to see who's going to get there. But they're also doing that deep breathing, while they're engaging in this activity.

Meredith (13:33):

That's a great idea. When we talk about, um, the avoiders the kids who avoid, do you have any tips or tricks that we can do at home to get those kids to engage more with some of these, um, activities that they avoid or textures that they avoid?

Sibi (13:50):

I would definitely keep in mind that we don't want to present too much too fast and really read their cues on these things because sometimes just a little bit for them, can be too much and that might prevent them from trying something for a very long time again. So I would definitely read their body language on it. If it's um, texture related, like they don't like something wet or messy. Um, shaving cream is a great way to kind of explore that. And honestly the first few times they don't even need to touch it. Just having them tolerate it being on the table while you play with it. Maybe them watching, just being in the room, getting used to the set because even the unscented has some sort of scent to it. Um, that would be wonderful. I often do, uh, car races and the shaving creams, just two small toy cars and they're stuck in the shaving cream and can my little friend helped me rescue them. So all they have to do is pick the car up from the shaving cream and I try to make sure there's a little bit or a little drops of it on car so that they're slowly getting used to that texture or they can use a tong or something else to help. But we just want to make sure that the exposure is gradual and reading their body language and their verbal communication, if they're able to, to let us know that this might be too much or that they're opening up a little bit.

Stephanie (15:10):

Yeah, it seems hard because if you're not used to living in their body, you could see their reaction as being like an overreaction or them just trying to get out of doing something you want them to do. But genuinely to them, it's a lot. It's overstimulating and we've all been in a situation where we're overstimulated.

Sibi (15:29):

Yes, for sure. Um, and another great thing if the kiddo seems to be overstimulated, whether it's sound or light, um, a fun activity. Actually a kiddo of mine mom told me did recently was build a Fort just with couch cushions building it over and he went and he did his zoom lesson in there the other day and it just took out that extra stimuli, like the outside light. It was his own personal private space and he was in there and he was attending.

Stephanie (15:57):

That's great. Great. That was actually going to be my next question is that I've had a few kids that have been really overstimulated by zoom meetings when all the kids are talking at once. It can be really loud and it's hard to pick up on who's voice to tend to and right from the computer screen. Are there any other tips for helping kids get calm when they're overstimulated by all the computer time?

Sibi (16:18):

I would, um, definitely what we talked about, try to make the environment they're in as less stimulating as possible because there's only so much that we can do to control the screen. Um, we can definitely try dimming the screen light, making the audio, um, softer. I don't know if using headphones might help some kiddos. Um, for some just being able to kind of localize the sound might be helpful. Others that might just be too much. Just the touch of the headphones or the sound seeming too close to them might be too much, but definitely minimizing any environmental stimuli that's in our control is great. And then if they really are having a hard time, maybe they can just take a little break, just a minute or two away from it, maybe put it down, walk away, um, refocus. Um, do some of these calming activities where like blowing bubbles even. It's kind of fun. It's easy to do, simple to do, doesn't take very much time. Um, take a little water break and then see if they're ready to come back.

Stephanie (17:16):

Working with a variety of families, have the headphones on, headphones, not what room in the house works best for them. A whole lot of just trial and error to see how we can get the kids to be calm and ready to engage.

Meredith (17:27):

Would you suggest doing more of a trial and error with your own children to determine what's right? I know that like when I was in the classroom, sometimes we try a wiggly seat or like a squishy seat for a wiggly kid and it would just make them wiggle even more. So, I mean, do you recommend giving things time for them to adjust or just if it doesn't look like it's working, move on to the next activity or option?

Sibi (17:49):

I would definitely um, leave some room for adjustment in that time period to get used to something because some kiddos, it might be that time of day it didn't work or for some reason that specific day it didn't work, but another day it can cause maybe something they were wearing just didn't feel good if we were using like the wiggle cushion but a different pair of pants or jeans felt different so that it works. Um, others, if you're noticing over a period of time, a couple of sessions that you tried or you know, a little bit of time goes on, I would try something else and move on. Um, because it might wind up being something that's more distracting to them in the long run than being beneficial.

Stephanie (18:30):

So I'm thinking about getting kids regulated for their day at home or for the day to learn. Is there any sort of like magic number of minutes or like do this once a day or twice a day or is it more based on the kid?

Sibi (18:45):

It definitely is based on the kid and even with individual kiddos, there really isn't a magic number because a number that you might see one day work another day might not be tolerated or they might want more. But um, overall, uh, it's important to incorporate movement activities especially and calming heavy work activities throughout the day. Um, especially during now where there is more seated or more screen time to be able to take those breaks because even though there are things we can do when a meltdown is happening to help come, we don't want to necessarily wait for that time. We want them to be getting the input that they need throughout the day and it can be incorporated into daily activities. Um, it can be as simple as like helping parents move some heavy things from one room to the other or taking out like that gallon of milk if they can carry it safely to the kitchen counter, helping them pour those heavy liquids. Giving them that input. Um, again, when we talked about like doing just simple animal walks throughout the day to go from room to room incorporating that is perfect. Um, a lot of kiddos find, um, thick liquids to be regulating like drinking and getting that motion in with sucking in. So like if they're having a milkshake or something else, using a straw that will give them some resistance to get that input in. So just simple things throughout the day can make a big difference.

Meredith (20:13):

We've been talking about a lot of activities that I imagine are good for all kids, um, whether they have a sensory processing disorder or not, but at what point is a parent should, if your child is not in occupational therapy, what at what point would we be concerned enough to maybe seek an occupational therapist? Maybe if we think something's going on with their sensory processing needs?

Sibi (20:33):

It might take, um, a little bit of time to see that. And really I would recommend it if you're, the teachers are seeing that if the kiddos in school, if you're seeing them having a hard time attending, um, focusing, staying with an activity socialization wise, is your child not wanting to do what their friend is doing? And why is that? Is it because it's too hard or is it because they can't quite figure out where their body is and how to do these movements that should be age appropriate? Um, if it's affecting any of their ADLs their activities of living. So for a child that's learning, that's playing, that's interacting, if it's affecting any of those in a negative way, I think it would be helpful to at least talk to an occupational therapist to see if an evaluation is warranted.

Stephanie (21:22):

So as we're talking about some of these activities, are there any materials that parents may have around the house that are like your go to materials other than cardboard boxes and um, shaving cream that parents may have around the house and they could use?

Sibi (21:36):

Yes, we've been, um, thinking of and using a lot of these things that might be available, especially during this time. A great tactical or touch activity would be just a rice or bean box and then hiding little things in there and seeing if the kiddos can find them without looking in just by touch so they can hide erasers, little marbles and Lego figurines in there and seeing if they are okay with the rice or the um, beans. And even in water beads. I've done this with water beads, which a lot of kiddos love or hate the ones who love it, see if they can distinguish and find the things that are in there in the water beads. Um, we talked about the cardboard box, but another way to kind of get that deep pressure, slow movement input is just using, if you don't have a body sock, a blanket and the parent or another adult or child who's able to safely put, pull the other kiddo in the blanket would be a good way to provide that. Just from room to room. Some kiddos might want to be all enclosed in the blanket and cover their eyes. Others might want to sit up in it to see what's happening. Um, but that's a good one too that we just tend to have on hand items that we tend to have on hand. Scavenger hunts. Those have been very popular lately. Um, we did a few, I did a few with some kiddos around Easter time and parents helped quite a lot by hiding these little things and eggs or in the egg shapes that I sent them around the house and they had to do movement activities to get to them. So either jump on the trampoline if they had one. Do an animal walk, do jumping jacks, do wall pushes to find your next clue. And those are usually very motivating. Um, especially if they know there's something fun at the end to do.

Stephanie (23:21):

Yeah, I like that. My kids love, um, we picked it up from an OT at The Carruth Center many years ago. The magic carpet rides with the blanket of just get getting pulled around and I mean it's name really speaks for itself. Some days it is really magic going from the, what we call the zoomies when they just start speeding around the house while I'm trying to do something to being a little more calm and ready, especially before dinner time. That seems to be our crazy hour.

Meredith (23:48):

And I love the scavenger hunt. I can get my kids to do things that they would normally not want to do if it's just disguised in a scavenger hunt clues though. I love that idea though.

Stephanie (23:57):

Great. Anything else that you wanted that we haven't hit on that might be important for parents to know at home?

Sibi (24:05):

Um, I think some other activities maybe that they might want to try. Um, and this can be calming or alerting. So if your kid who seems like they are under aroused and need to wake up a little bit easy as just putting some essential oils in Play-Doh, which I have done, um, you can use like a citrus or peppermint and one for the alerting and they can just play with the playdough or smell it. But again, I would introduce it in small quantity because some kiddos can have a negative reaction to the smell. So first try it out and see if they can tolerate it and then incorporate that maybe into the playdough. And then for a calming one I'm using like lavender or eucalyptus essential oils in the Play-Doh, um, can really help with that as well. Um, something else fun that a lot of parents have told me that they had looked into even before this are those like visual bottles, that sensory bottles that you can fill with glitter, oil, colored water, um, put marbles in them. And those seem to be one that can help them calm sometimes just watching it slowly move or if you have a lot of things in there that they can shake and see faster, sometimes that can be more alerting and kiddos often have a great time just helping make that.

Stephanie (25:16):

Yeah, I love that from a language perspective too. A lot goes into it to making something like that. Oh, I did want to ask you about Jax and what you do to incorporate him into your therapy.

Sibi (25:31):

So, um, Jax is one of my golden retrievers. And even before I got him, I just knew that I wanted to train my dog to be a therapy dog if it was appropriate for them because I've seen and read about so many things, um, that animals help with even just getting the child to look your way if they're having such a hard time or just help having them engage. Um, and he has sat in on some of my sessions, especially in the beginning as a great way for children to just engage in this new way of therapy that we're using. So sometimes, um, they'll wait until the end, like that will be their a treat from me cause sometimes some kiddos need to work for something and it's as easy as just showing them my dog. So they'll wait for that. They'll tell him to like sit or stay or watch him do some tricks and they seem to enjoy that. And he has, um, just been a really motivating presence for a lot of them.

Stephanie (26:27):

Yeah. We did a recent episode with a Parish School teacher has a therapy dog in training on campus and we love, love, love it and see so many benefits with having a therapeutic dog around. Was that, would that be something that is calming like petting or being around if a family happens to have their own pet at home?

Sibi (26:51):

Yes it can be. Um, and definitely just keeping in mind if the child is open to animals or afraid of animals or not is really big, but if they do have a family dog that the child has a good positive relationship with, definitely the calming part can be just petting them, talking to them, laying on them, um, even during some of their sessions, whether it's the distance learning or with therapy. That might be a good way to um, incorporate that. But one thing to watch out for that, which I've heard is some complaints from families or concerns from families, is if a kiddo is very under responsive to that proprioceptive input and needs a lot of it to process, they might be using a lot of pressure to uh, pet the dog or grab the dog and you just want to watch out for that in terms of the dog's reaction.

Stephanie (27:41):

Yeah, that's great. That's great advice to look out for when to keep up with the kids and the dog safe. Yeah.

Meredith (27:46):

We have two dogs at home, one older and one as a puppy. And I would say the older dog is definitely used as a calming technique. He's the one that gets the snuggles and they lay on him. And then the younger dog is more of the arousing technique. It turns into lots of giggles and running and licking and zoomies. So I think it depends on the dog, right?

Sibi (28:06):

Yes, yes, for sure. Because not all are cut out to be therapy dogs. I have another golden retriever. He's three, and um, he's the sweetest, most loving one, but he's kind of anxious and still all over the place. And if he could get that together, he would be perfect therapy dog. But he's one that sometimes I need to try some of my calming sensory inputs with.

Stephanie (28:31):

Works for dogs, children and adults. There are definitely been days that I've gotten the calming miss out of, you know, pushing really hard on the plate with my kids and I'm like, Ooh, this does feel good. I feel much better now too. All right. Well we appreciate having you on so much. We do have one final question. We ask all of our guests, if you had one piece of advice to give to the listeners, it can be about sensory processing, occupational therapy or just in general, really great life advice. One piece of advice. What would you give?

Sibi (29:05):

I would say, you know, your child the best. So us as professionals, yes, we have suggestions, we have recommendations. Um, but it's not a work for everyone type of mold or model. You know, your child best. Um, take our advice, listen to it, but incorporate it in the way that you feel best and you're seeing them respond positively. Um, and if that means taking a break from things, take a break from things. If that means trying something completely different, try something different. Um, but just remember to see their feedback and how they're responding.

Stephanie (29:41):

We appreciate you be with us. Thank you so much for all of your input.

Sibi (29:46):

You're very welcome. This is fun.

Meredith (29:48):

Yeah. Thanks Sibi. And thanks everyone for tuning in for more information on The Parish School, visit parishschool.org. And for more information on The Carruth Center, visit carruthcenter.org. Thanks so much. If you're not already, don't forget to subscribe to the Unbabbled podcast on your app of choice. And if you like what you're hearing, be sure to leave a rating and review. A special thank you to Stig Daniels, Amy Tanner, Amanda Arnold, and Stella Limuel for their hard work behind the scenes. Thanks again for listening.